St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Auburn turns 125 and counts

On the afternoon of 1959 when St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church boogie through the city from its first home in over half a century at A and First Streets to 123 L Street Northeast, its Vicar couldn’t help but engage in a little pun.

“We’re going to L!” shouted the mischievous Reverend from the moving van.

No, Saint Matthew never went to “L”. Indeed, for longtime members like Caroline Smith, who told the story during the church’s 125th anniversary celebration plus two Sunday afternoons — plus two because of the pandemic — St. Matthew’s still has been their own little piece of paradise.

Not only that, but over the years St. Matthew has earned a reputation for welcoming people who may have struggled to be accepted elsewhere.

Like Hannah Brenlan, who arrived four years ago and is now deputy director.

“I really like being here,” said Brenlan, who also teaches 5th graders in the Auburn School District. “I didn’t think I could find a church that would be so empowering for the LGBTQ community. I also live just five blocks away.

Brenlan added that his Spanish skills have come in handy with San Mateo’s thriving Spanish-speaking population.

The Acting Vicar of St. Matthew performed her last service on Sunday before moving on to her new assignment with the Dioceses of Seattle. Not only Carla Robinson, or Mother Carla, as she was affectionately known – “the church’s first black vicar, but also its first transgender vicar,” she said.

Photo courtesy of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church The original sanctuary of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, which was destroyed by a powerful earthquake in 1965 after it moved from First and A Street Northwest at 123 L St. NE.

“We welcome everyone,” said Harry Patterson, who first came to church with his wife, Janet, in 1982.

According to Patterson, the church’s history begins in 1896 when Harry Buzzle – the first of 23 vicars, rectors and priests to date – began meeting a handful of fledgling worshipers in a private home.

At that time, the town, with its population of 100, had just passed the great name of Slaughter to Auburn, but was still without sidewalks or paved streets.

Several years later, the congregation built its first church on land it had purchased on First and A Streets Northwest, adjacent to the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks. By this time, the Northern Pacific had made Auburn the east-west junction of its rail line over Stampede Pass, and so it became a bustling place. And when the railroad brought the expected flood of new residents to town – 4,000 of them in 2014 – the church’s congregation grew too.

By the end of World War I, however, the church had fallen into debt, and when the Great Depression arrived in 1929, it could no longer afford a vicar.

“Times were very hard and we practically closed our doors, but the women of the church got permission to at least keep Sunday school going. Thanks to these women, we carried on,” Patterson said. “Some things never change, do they? »

Yet there, next to the tracks, Saint Matthew remained for more than 50 years. Its first resident priest, the Reverend George Ziegler, arrived in 1949.

But there had always been a problem with the location. It seems that when the big cars rolled down the nearby North Pacific lanes, or the nearby firefighters cranked their moaning engines, or the nearby police station its screaming cars, the choir members couldn’t even hear themselves sing. .

“It was too loud,” as the late church member Dorothy Saunder told the Valley Journal in 1986 on the church’s 90th anniversary.

Additionally, church members felt they needed more space. So in the early 1950s, the church purchased the L Street Northeast property in anticipation of building a new parish hall there next to the church. The construction of the parish hall was completed in 1958, a year before the move of the church itself.

During re-excavation, the nearly 60-year-old building soon suffered misfortune, however, when a young member of the congregation accidentally drove the vicar’s car into the back of the church, smashing a stained glass window and smashing a bench or two. .

But that was minor compared to the damage caused by the great earthquake of 1965, which shook the structure of the building so much that it could not be saved and was flattened. The congregation, however, kept the stained glass windows, which they moved to the small parish hall, where they met until 2000, when they built a new church on the site of the old one, with stained glass windows bearing the names of the members.

Telling the story of St. Matthews Episcopal Church during Sunday's celebration of its 125th anniversary, plus two, Harry Patterson points out where the organ of St. Matthews Church, which now stands in the new sanctuary, s is held for years in the parish hall.  Photo of Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter

Telling the story of St. Matthews Episcopal Church during Sunday’s celebration of its 125th anniversary, plus two, Harry Patterson points out where the organ of St. Matthews Church, which now stands in the new sanctuary, s is held for years in the parish hall. Photo of Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter

Jerry B. Hatch